Welfare as We Knew It: A Political History of the American Welfare State

By Charles Noble | Go to book overview

SEVEN
The Future of Reform

To this point, I have considered the political and institutional constraints on welfare-state development in the United States and reformers' responses to these. I have argued that the structure of American politics, the balance of power between business and labor, and racial divisions have discouraged all but the most modest reforms--even in crisis situations. The result is the market-oriented welfare state described in chapter 1, a welfare state that provides fewer public benefits and, as the rightwing's recent success in reforming welfare and restraining the growth of social spending has revealed, is more vulnerable to efforts to retrench than most other welfare states. I do not think that the decisions taken by reformers in the four periods under discussion were the only possible ones. Indeed, I have argued that both Roosevelt and Johnson might have profitably chosen differently. But I have suggested that the long-term trajectory of liberal reform has, to a significant extent, been determined by the rational adaptation by reformers to the political environment in which they have acted.

In this chapter I want to consider what this analysis suggests about the future of reform in the United States. With the recent collapse of liberalism, reformers have begun to take stock of their situation and consider alternatives. Do any recently developed proposals address the problems I have outlined?


Building from the left?

Reformers to the left of New Deal and Great Society liberalism imagine two scenarios, both resting on the assumption that, in some way, a changing economy will teach the working and middle classes that market-oriented social policies do not serve their interests, and that a new, more radical politics of social reform will emerge from that experience.

In the first scenario, European-style social democrats assume that economic stagnation (and perhaps crisis), combined with growing class inequality and declining American competitiveness on

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Welfare as We Knew It: A Political History of the American Welfare State
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vi
  • Introduction 3
  • One the Problem 7
  • Two - An Unusually Inhospitable Environment for Reform 19
  • Three - Progressives 36
  • Four - The New Deal 54
  • Five - The Great Society 79
  • Six - Backlash 105
  • Seven the Future of Reform 135
  • Conclusion 151
  • Notes 159
  • Index 201
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